- Name: Adina Jacobs
- Business name: STM Goods
- Industry: Retail
- Number of employees: ~30
- Operating since: 1998
What was your first paid job?
Unofficially, I worked for my parents. My dad was a doctor and my mum ran his practice. When I was eight or nine, they put me to work matching up the hundreds of little plastic bottles that came separate from the lids. I got 5c for each lid I screwed on to a bottle. My first official job was also for my parents; at 14 I worked reception at his surgery on Thursdays after school and Saturday mornings.
What made you get into your current business?
I was working for a fast fashion company as the accessories buyer, and one of my colleagues was the IT manager. He bought a laptop and couldn’t find a bag for it, other than those black, boring briefcase-style bags, which didn’t suit him or his lifestyle at all. He bought a padded envelope, put his laptop inside it and put it in his backpack. That was the spark of the idea that became the first STM laptop backpack. He had the idea and the need, I had the knowledge and experience to make it happen, and 22 years later we’re still here!
How did you get your very first customer/client?
We naively thought that if we just told people about our awesome $150 laptop backpack, people would snap them up without seeing them, but we quickly realised that that’s not quite how things work. This was before the start-up world, where people fork over money for a good idea, so we decided to order the smallest number of bags we could (500) and shop them around to IT retailers and luggage stores. One night just before the shipment arrived, we pulled out the Yellow Pages (yes, an actual phone book) and made a list of all the computer retailers and luggage stores in Sydney and Melbourne, and we wrote them a letter (not an email), explaining our awesome new product. Then once we got the bags, we followed up with a phone call and a visit. The first few to bite were an Apple reseller (they were selling cool new iBooks that didn’t come with bags), a luggage store (I think they felt sorry for us, but they’re still a customer today!) and a marketing manager at Ozemail (I went to uni with him).
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
One of the first was not having to action our Plan B: to sell the first order at Bondi Markets! Beyond that there are so many that have happened over 22 years. The triumphs that stand out the most to me are about the people. I see how the business has grown to support so many people and their families; I see how passionate people are in this business we created, and the environment we’ve built. There are some amazing stories of big wins, like finally getting into retailers we’ve been after for years, and large deals that have come through. They’re amazing, but the stories that jump out at me are about people and relationships.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Oh so many mistakes! My focus in the business is on product, so most of my mistakes are around that, and communication.
The very first one was not checking the product properly before the first shipment, so the 500 bags arrived without zipper pullers (the little tabs that you grab to open and close a zipper) and no hang tags. Each of those bags had six zipper pullers and one hang tag, so before every order shipped out, we sat on the floor in my dad’s garage, finishing the product before sending it out. From that and similar experiences, I learnt to be very specific with the factory about what the product includes, and make sure it’s checked by a third party that understands your requirements before it’s approved to leave the factory.
I can’t think of a “biggest” mistake, although I’m sure there are many. It’s a series of many little mistakes that come to mind, and we examine all of them, not to lay blame, but to add to our knowledge base and figure out how to do better next time.
How have you adjusted your business to cushion the blow of the COVID crisis?
We made products for people using tech devices, and we have always worked across countries and borders, so we were in the fortunate position of being able to continue the way we work without making too many adjustments. We were a very early adopter of Zoom, and we all work off laptops, so transitioning to work from home wasn’t a big hiccup for us. Very early on, we evaluated our product roadmap and strengthened our focus on the products that were more about people and protection, and less about travel, but we didn’t have to do a massive pivot; it was more about making sure we focused on the right products, not having to recreate our offering. We kept a close eye on our people and our customers to make sure that we were open with them, and that we understood what they were going through so we could support them.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Cash flow and relationships are everything. You can have the best product that tons of people want, but if you don’t have money to pay for the product and then money to survive while you’re waiting to be paid for it, you can’t keep your doors open.
We strive to be the best partner we can in all our relationships — whether it’s as employees, as customers or as suppliers, our relationships are everything to us.
What do you do to get away from work?
To be honest, as a business owner I don’t really get away from work, especially since on a day-to-day basis I’m heavily involved in product development and I’m one of the front people in that area. I have a great family and amazing friends, so spending time with them helps me create balance. Right now, I’m renovating our house, so that’s a good side project, but I don’t really get away. I do take holidays, and I do fun things with my family and friends, but I don’t usually totally shut off from work. Last year, I took a five-week trip with my family, and it was the first time in 21 years that I really closed my eyes on the business for a period of time.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
The product! You can’t sell the product if you don’t buy the product!